Dáil Éireann - Volume 502 - 11 March, 1999

Written Answers. - Task Force on Drugs.

10. Mr. McDowell asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the progress made to date in drawing down money allocated for local initiatives to combat drugs in each of the years 1996 and 1997 arising from the reports of the ministerial task force on the reduction in drugs demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7388/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): Following the publication of the ministerial task force report in October 1996, the Government allocated £10 million in 1997 to support the implementation of over 200 separate initiatives in action plans, which were prepared by the local drugs task forces. These task forces were set up to develop and implement an integrated response to the drug problem in their areas; and involve local communities in the planning, design and implementation of that response.

Funding for this initiative is held in the Vote of my Department and is transferred, on request as projects become operational, to other Departments and agencies, which are acting as channels of funding to the approved projects. Approximately, £5.6 million has been drawn down by these Departments and agencies to date and around 88 per cent of the projects are currently in receipt of funding. The balance of the £10 mill[391] ion is being held in the Vote of my Department, for payment to projects as they come on stream.

An important feature of the initiative is the engagement of local communities in the design and planning of strategies to respond to the drug problem in their areas and in the implementation of approved projects. In the majority of cases, this has been undertaken by voluntary and community groups, in partnership with relevant statutory agencies and assisted by the local drugs task forces. It is hoped that this approach will assist the viability and sustainability of these projects and facilitate their future “mainstreaming”. However, a vital prerequisite to achieving this is the need to develop the capacity of community and voluntary organisations to deliver locally-based drug programmes and services.

In the task forces areas where strong community structures were already in place prior to the setting up of the initiative, the emphasis in the action plans was on developing and expanding those structures. Accordingly, in such areas, it was possible to get the majority of approved projects up and running relatively quickly.

It is notable that these areas either had a long tradition of community involvement in responding to the drug problem or had a local partnership company which had established a strong community network in the area. Conversely, in the areas where community networks were less developed, the emphasis in the plans was on building up these structures and, as a result, it has taken longer to get projects off the ground.

The four principal features which have impacted on the speed at which projects are being established are the fact that they are designed to address gaps in current service provision means that, in many instances, they have to be designed and planned from scratch; in many instances, appropriate management structures have had to be put in place as a prerequisite to ensuring that the projects will work effectively, meet their objectives and are sustainable with a view to their future “mainstreaming”; the lack of suitable premises from which programmes and services could be run and, in a number of instances, local opposition to such services, due to a misunderstanding as to their purpose, which is to provide backup and support to the care and after-care services being provided by the health board; and the shortage of appropriately trained personnel to deliver drug programmes and services and the potential competition which this can cause between projects.

The local drugs task forces, the Departments and agencies acting as channels of funding and the national drug strategy team all play an important role in ensuring the effective implementation and monitoring of the approved projects.

The task forces assist in the planning and design of the projects and submit regular reports [392] to the national drugs strategy team on progress in their implementation. The team members and the statutory representatives on the task forces are making every effort to assist the projects in overcoming problems or difficulties inhibiting the start-up of projects being funded through their Departments or agencies.

I would like to assure the Deputy that every effort is being made to ensure that the £10 million provided by the Government to support initiatives in local drugs task force areas is fully spent and on initiatives which will make a considerable positive impact on the lives of the communities.